Can Carrier Reuse Program

Plastic can carriers, the tops used to create 4-packs and 6-packs of cans, are easily reused. However, we lack systems for consumers to get the can carriers back to producers for reuse.

Billions of can carriers end up going to landfill or incineration in the U.S. every year. Even when marketed as being sustainable, only a fraction of them are collected and reused by breweries and even fewer get recycled.

Reusable Solutions
Picture of can carriers in a crate at a grocery store

We are working on a Can Carrier Reuse Program for the Ithaca area, modeled after the successful state-wide program in Vermont. We’re talking with local breweries, retailers, and distributors about how can carrier reuse could fit into the flow of their businesses. We will post updates here as the effort progresses.

As a first step, we would like to promote existing can carrier reuse opportunities. If you are a producer who accepts can carrier returns, please let us know at We will add you to the map we’re creating, give you a Circular Economy sticker to display, and promote your business on social media.

Watch our discussion with Ben Kogan of Reusable Solutions

The impact of can carrier reuse

Plastic pollution is an environmental, climate, and public health crisis. As we work toward a future free of single-use plastic, we can also start turning off the tap of plastic production by reusing what is easily reused. Can carrier reuse is a no-brainer, where everyone wins. Here are just some of the benefits:

  • Producers save money by not having to buy new can carriers.
  • Producers gain positive brand awareness from eco-conscious consumers.
  • Consumers feel good knowing they aren’t sending can carriers into the waste stream.
  • We can avoid the greenhouse gas emissions incurred by plastic extraction, production, and shipping.
  • We can also avoid the resource-use and toxicity of incinerating, landfilling, or recycling the plastic.
  • Keeping can carriers out of the waste stream means they won’t end up as microplastics in our water and soil (a great threat to human and wildlife heath).
Graphic showing the plastic pollution lifecycle: extraction, plastic production, point of sale, consumers, waste industry, dumping and burning.
Image from Break Free From Plastic

Why not just recycle them?

The disappointing truth is that plastic recycling is a myth. To date, only 5% of the plastic produced has been recycled. Even if you are putting recyclable plastic in your collection bin, only a small percentage actually gets recycled. For more, see this article in The Atlantic: Plastic Recycling Doesn’t Work and Will Never Work. Plastic is fundamentally different from other materials that recycle well—paper, metal, and glass—in that plastic is not inert. The small percentage of plastic that does end up getting recycled going through a toxic and expensive process.

All of this can be avoided with reuse. In the Vermont program, 90% of the can carriers collected were reused by breweries, saving them $9,000. The carriers unable to be reused were repurposed by trail clubs as trail markers or turned into bike fenders by a local maker.

Diagram showing the 4-step process of the can carrier reuse program in Vermont: 1. 75,000 carriers rescued at 50+ take-back locations. 2. 90% cleaned and reused by eco-minded breweries, who saved $9,000. 3. 1,620 fewer pounds of freight shipped 3,029 miles from Oregon to VT. 4. Reduction of 3/4 of a ton of harmful GHG emissions.
Image from Reusable Solutions

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